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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

HIV Tests for Foreigners Delayed 3 Months

One day before a new AIDS law obliging foreign residents in Russia to undergo HIV testing was due to come into effect, officials said Monday that the date will now be delayed for at least three months.

"The law will not go into effect tomorrow," Nikolai Sobchakov, deputy chairman of the Foreign Ministry's Consular Service section said Monday, adding that the law's implementation was now likely to be delayed until at least November.

"The mechanisms for implementation are not ready yet," he said, before going on to say that the Health Ministry and not the Foreign Ministry is responsible for setting up the mechanisms required to implement the law.

That suggested significant confusion over who is meant to administer the new law.

"I can't say whether or not everything will be ready by August 1, but our suggestions were sent to the Foreign Ministry on June 21," said Alexander Golyusov, chief AIDS specialist at the Health Ministry. "It is now up to the Foreign Ministry."

The new AIDS law calls for foreigners living in Russia for more than 3 months to prove they are HIV-negative. Signed by President Boris Yeltsin in March, the law was supposed to go into effect Aug.1.

While the law caused consternation among foreign residents when it was passed because it was not clear where they would have to go to get their HIV tests, the final version was less draconian. Earlier drafts had caused mass cancellations of tourist bookings by suggesting that every foreigner entering Russia would have to be tested.

There is, however, no indication that the law will be shelved. Included in the Health Ministry materials sent to the Foreign Ministry was a draft of the form -- inquiring about the date and results of AIDS testing -- that all foreigners are to receive when applying for or renewing a Russian visa for any period longer than 3 months.

According to the Health Min This appeared to be news to the Foreign Ministry. Sobchakov, who pushed responsibility for implementation back on the Health Ministry, said Golyusov's comment was misleading. "We only have responsibility for issuing visas," he said.

The Duma health committee that drafted the law could not resolve the conflict.

"Our committee requested a status report on the law from Prime Minister [Viktor] Chernomyrdin, and we are still awaiting an answer," said Boris Maximov, a consultant to the committee. Whether or not the Foreign Ministry is prepared to implement the law, it does not have the right to delay it, he said.

"Couldn't they have collected the necessary information by now? Of course they could have," said Maximov, adding that the law should go into effect Tuesday whether or not the regulatory guidelines exist.

In the meantime, confusion reigns among Moscow's foreign community. In spite of repeated appeals for information, foreign embassies have failed to receive any word from Russian officials on when and how the AIDS law will affect foreign residents in Russia.

"As of August 1 we expect anyone planning to stay in Russia longer than three months will have to prove he is not HIV positive," said a spokeswoman for the Canadian Embassy. "But we don't know what form this proof will take."

Many expatriates living in Moscow are taking matters into their own hands. Ronald Swanger, a doctor at U.S. Global Health, said Monday that in the past two weeks the Western clinic has received an increasing number of calls from foreigners inquiring about the new AIDS law.

"We've gotten a picture of just how confused the implementation of this law has become," said Swanger.

U.S. Global Health, as well as the American Medical Center and other Western clinics in Moscow, provides confidential AIDS testing, but Swanger still does not know whether these test results will be accepted as valid proof.

"How the tests will be administered has not yet been determined by the government," said Swanger. "From a practical point of view, there are still a lot of questions."

But Swanger is not alone in wondering about the nuts and bolts of the law. "Why three months? For me this figure is still a mystery," said Sobchakov, wondering about the cut-off date that requires foreigners traveling to Russia to submit to AIDS testing. "Why not one night?